Stop – or face jail

FOUR men could be facing jail after setting up an illegal travellers site on the edge of a village. Two Gypsy families, including 11 children and about 20 caravans, have been served with a High Court injunction to prevent them from developing and living

FOUR men could be facing jail after setting up an illegal travellers' site on the edge of a village.

Two Gypsy families, including 11 children and about 20 caravans, have been served with a High Court injunction to prevent them from developing and living on the land.

The families own plots at Thrapston Road, Catworth and say they want to make it their permanent home, giving their children a chance to go to school.

However, Huntingdonshire District Council said there was no planning permission for residential use, and has moved quickly to use its enforcement powers.

After seeing its injunction breached, HDC has applied for an order to have four men - Peter and Tom Gaskin, William Stubley and Wayne Buckley - committed to prison for contempt of court.

The case is due to be heard at the High Court in London next Wednesday when the families will also seek to have the injunction lifted or varied. If this fails, the court could send the men to prison.

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Peter Gaskin, 27, who is married and has a baby son of 16 months, told The Hunts Post the situation had been blown up by HDC.

"We bought this land through a solicitor," he said. "We were told by local councillors that we must do things by the law.

"There is a list of 14 points we have to go along with and we said yes, we would go along with them all.

"But the next thing we know is that we are taken to the High Court and now we cannot so much as lift a stone.

"We took every bit of advice and it got chucked in our faces. We were shocked and stunned by the way the council and the court responded to us.

"The only point where we broke the injunction was laying some hardcore for cleanliness and hardstanding because it was muddy to walk on."

They bought the land from a Patrick Underwood, of Wellingborough.

Peter Gaskin said: "My plot cost me just over £5,000 - people don't realise that we have bought the land. People think we live out of a hedge and have no money.

"I have a legitimate business, a registered company selling windows, fascias and sofits and have an office in Bedford.

"We are no different to anyone else, except for where we go home to sleep."

However, HDC said it had followed the correct procedures. The site has no planning permission for residential use, only for a stable block, and the planning application from the families was submitted on the day of the hearing for a permanent injunction, August 10 - eight days after HDC officers told the families they needed planning permission. Requests to stop laying hardstanding on the site were also ignored, says HDC.

A spokesman said: "Planning enforcement powers allow the local planning authority to tackle breaches of planning control where it is necessary to do so.

"Our planning enforcement team deals with a number of unauthorised gypsy sites across the district. Its response in these circumstances is to ensure such developments are not in inappropriate locations."

The council has eight weeks to reach a decision on the planning application.

The families are optimistic that their request to use the land for residential purposes will be successful and claim villagers have been welcoming.

Robert Davies, 51, whose daughter, Brittania, son-in-law and baby grandson live on the site, said: "There are some really nice people in this village and the local police are really nice. It is mostly young couples on this site but travellers get racial discrimination."

Kelly Stubley, 26, mother of a girl aged seven and a boy aged five, and who is expecting another baby in January, said: "We want our children to be part of society. It would be nice to have choices like everyone else.

"We want a chance to live without being moved from place to place. We are British citizens, we are not asking for hand-outs, we just want to be left alone to live our lives like anyone else."

Legal procedures.

PLANNING permission was submitted this week by the Gaskins and the Stubleys for the field in Brington and the council has eight weeks to reach a decision.

According to planning consultant Matthew Green, who is working for the families, their chances of success are high. "The site is in line with local and national policy as set out in changes to planning law in January last year."

He says 96 per cent of applications by gypsies were turned down by councillors, but many are won on appeal.

Mr Green said: "In a lot of cases, people are allowed to remain on the land while they seek planning permission. This council has made the decision that they want the gypsies to leave the site.

"The travelling population is only about 100,000 people nationally but there is a huge amount of time and money spent by the planning inspectorate and courts in opposing them when all they want are permanent bases to live."

* Somersham parish councillors voted unanimously last week to reject an application for a gypsy site on land north of The Paddocks in the village.

* The Government has required HDC to find 20 new pitches for travellers by 2011. There is a national shortage of 4,500 pitches.